“On average, there is an alcohol-related traffic crash in Texas every 20 minutes,” said TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson. “Drunk driving crashes are 100 percent preventable and so is the pain that comes with each one.”
Throughout the month of July, TxDOT will host Faces of Drunk Driving events across the state at which safety advocates, law enforcement and victims of drunk driving will share their stories in front of 1,170 Texas flags, representing the number of people killed in alcohol-related crashes in Texas last year. More than 9,400 people also were seriously injured in alcohol-related crashes in 2012.
Helping TxDOT deliver this sobering message is 9-year-old Xitclalli “Chilli” Vasquez, who was paralyzed from the chest down after being hit by a drunk driver in Fort Worth on July 9, 2011 (just three days before her eighth birthday).
On a hot Saturday afternoon in July, 2011 7-year-old Xitclalli Vásquez — friends and family call her Chilli — was on her way home from the mall after getting her hair cut and having a manicure. She wanted to look pretty for her birthday just three days away.
A drunk driver in a stolen pickup speeding the wrong way down a busy Fort Worth street slammed head-on into her car. Jeremy Solis landed in jail for 10 years, and Chilli landed in a wheelchair.
When Arabella Vásquez arrived at the hospital, she wasn’t sure that her fourth child would even survive the terrible crash. Her little girl’s injuries were massive. But Arabella says Chilli is her miracle child, and after 105 days in the hospital, Chilli went home to her—and her family’s—new life.
Now her parents, brother, and sisters help take care of her.
Beyond the immediate event, the aftermath and impact on families is profound. Arabella initially had to quit her job to be able to do all the extra things it takes to care for a disabled child. She says it’s not easy to look after Chilli and her four brothers and sisters. Some days Chilli is sad and depressed. Some days there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. There is no end to the medical bills, which exceeded $1.6 million during the first month Chilli was in the hospital.
Still, Arabella is proud of all that Chilli has accomplished since the crash. She laughs and plays like other children. She does well in school. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up so she can help others the way doctors have helped her.
Like Chilli, Arabella also dreams that one day her daughter will be able to walk again. Here's the message she delivered to the drunk driver who hit her:
impact statement from Chilli Vasquez to DUI driver
God bless you Chilli!